Michael Milshtein
Michael Milshtein
Photo: Courtesy
Joint List MK Mansour Abbas

Jewish MKs must support Arab colleagues' outreach

Opinion: Joint List MK Mansour Abbas' efforts at cooperation with government reflect a deeper debate about the path of Arab politics, which seems to be at a dead end, and now his counterparts in major parties must do their part too

Michael Milshtein |
Published: 11.16.20 , 23:43
In recent years, there has been a widespread tendency in Israeli politics to label any discussion, as meritorious as it may be, according through a lens of "Yes to Bibi" or "No to Bibi."
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  • This appears also to be the fate of the growing coordination between the ruling Likud and Ra'am, the political party led by MK Mansour Abbas that represents the southern faction of the Islamic Movement and is part of the Joint List coalition of predominantly Arab parties.
    חבר הכנסת מנסור עבאס ליד שטח בית הקברות המוסלמיחבר הכנסת מנסור עבאס ליד שטח בית הקברות המוסלמי
    Joint List MK Mansour Abbas
    (Photo: Nadav Abas)
    In a rare response, this cooperation has excited not only the Arab community but Jewish Israelis, many of whom are for the first time recognizing nuance in Arab society in general and among the Joint List members in particular.
    Abbas is taking unprecedented moves in the framework of Arab politics, focusing on broad cooperation with the ruling party in order to solve the acute fundamental problems of Arab society, most notably crime and violence.
    Overshadowing his efforts are critiques from elements of the Joint List, and also from Jewish politicians who have presented him as another "Bibi lacky," being used by the prime minister to weaken his political faction without any real intention of solving the problems of the people he represents.
    The truth is that Abbas' actions reflect a much deeper and principled discussion about the path of Arab politics, which seems to have reached a dead end.
    Abbas himself makes it clear that after many years of adhering to slogans and a genuine unwillingness to cross the line when it comes to the government, he is willing to break conventions to promote a response to the plight of Arab Israelis, even if it means cooperating with a government that dismisses the Joint List and the community it represents.
    בנימין נתניהו ומנסור עבאסבנימין נתניהו ומנסור עבאס
    Joint List MK Mansour Abbas and Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu
    (Photos: Elad Gershgoren, Reuters)
    Abbas is not alone in this and in recent months, similar comments of cooperation have been heard from other opinion makers. They are expressing the prevailing mood of an Arab public frustrated by its unprecedented electoral achievements in recent years, which has not swayed the Joint List out of its refusal to become more involved in governance.
    It is not surprising, therefore, that recent opinion polls show the Joint List falling to about 11 Knesset seats from its current 15, which is a cause of growing concern among its leadership.
    Abbas is to a large extent a revolutionary. He has broken out of the pattern of identity politics, which automatically puts all Arabs on the same side of the political map and in the pockets of the leftist camp.
    The lawmaker has become a relevant and influential actor, characteristics that are in part foreign to Arab politics. However, the portrait of the Islamic Movement is more complex.
    In terms of its political approach, it is similar to the other Arab parties, but socially and ideologically it is closer to the religious parties in Israel, which is reflected in the party's opposition to the ban on conversion therapies, a position that caused a stir among the Arab public.
    חברי הרשימה המשותפת עומדים בזמן הצפירהחברי הרשימה המשותפת עומדים בזמן הצפירה
    MK Mansour Abbas, right, with Joint List colleagues in the Knesset
    (Photo: Knesset Channel)
    Abbas' actions have not been met by sweeping opposition in Arab society. On the contrary, they are seen by many as an expression of a deeper mood and a developing gulf between the public and the political leadership.
    It is actually the Islamic Movement, with its inherent pragmatism and adaptability, that has demonstrated a far-reaching capacity for change and ideological flexibility.
    The ball is currently in the court of Jewish politics and society. Now the Jewish side must also show an ability to change, and especially its willingness to open the gates of the major parties and coalitions to those who approach from the heart of Arab society.

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